Petals and Wings: A Window of Opportunity

Spring ephemerals. Those species that take advantage of the short stretch of time between snow melt and leaf out. We celebrated such today at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve as we ever so slowly walked along the orange trail from the Flat Hill parking lot and then looped around on Perky’s Path.

S1-GATHERING

But first, we gathered in the parking lot where Docent Peter explained that he thought I was crazy when I suggested a May date for a flower and bird walk. He’d not been in Maine during May previously and only this week learned the joys of birding with minimal leaf cover. I think he’s hooked. And I’m still crazy.

S4-WILDFLOWER GUIDES

Our journey began with Docent Linda locating wildflowers that are opportunists who bloom early, get pollinated and produce seeds before the deciduous trees blanket the floor of the forest in shade.

S2-STINKING BENJAMIN

Among those early bloomers was one that stinks! And yet, it’s exquisitely beautiful. Stinking Benjamin is one of its common names because of the flower’s malodorous scent. Of course, you need to get down on your hands and knees to get a whiff.

S5-HAND LENS

Our focus wasn’t just on flowers and birds as we all soon realized, for it seemed that many things caught our attention, including the seeds of deer tongue grass. As a collective group, we suffered from Nature Distraction Disorder.

S6-WILD SARSAPIRILLA LEAVES

Because of such, we observed more than just the flowers that were in bloom. In one instance, the flower was yet to come, but the leaves in their early stage were worth noting. Linda pointed out that the color of wild sarsaparilla’s new leaves was reminiscent of poison ivy. But, poison ivy has leaves of three.

S7-BEECH LEAVES

And that reddish tint that we saw in the sarsaparilla, beech and other leaves? The various hues of color in leaves was caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As our spring temperatures rise and light intensity increases, red pigment forms on a leaf and acts as a sunscreen to protect the plant from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

S8-BIRDING

We’d been looking down for a while, but then bird song pulled our attention to the tree tops. Without the use of my Cannon Rebel, which is currently enjoying what I hope will be a successful rice bath ūüė¶ , I couldn’t capture the many warblers we spied. Some, as Peter, and his wife Molly, told us, were only in the area temporarily to fuel up on insects before continuing the journey to their breeding grounds in Canada.

S10-GARTER SNAKE

And looking at our feet once again, another in search of insects. We saw a garter snake who stayed as still as possible while we ogled it. Was it cold and trying to soak up warmth from the sun? Or did it stay still in hopes we wouldn’t spy it?

S11-PAINTED TRILLIUM

We finally left the snake in peace. And paused next to gaze upon a painted trillium.

S12-HOBBLEBUSH FLOWERS

Almost two hours after our start, we approached the wetland and overlooking bench. It was there that a hobblebush laden with blossoms caught our attention in the shrub level. The hobblebush bouquet was really an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

S13-BIRDING BY THE BENCH

It was at the bench that bird song again greeted us and we looked above the shrubs toward the tree limbs above.

S14-BIRDING

For many of us, we looked through our binoculars at birds we’d only heard of before, including a Bay-breasted Warbler. Peter explained that he’s participating in the citizen science project to update the Maine Birding Atlas and so he uploaded the 38 species identified today to the e-bird website.

S15-LINDA TURNS HER FOCUS UPWARD

Even though she’d spent a lot of time directing our attention to the beauty at our feet, Linda was also in awe of those who moved above, however, she was heard to comment that it’s a whole lot easier to ID flowers that stand still.

S16-BEECH FERN

As our journey finally continued, we found a patch of beech ferns with their own variation of today’s theme, for each leaflet attached to the rachis in a winged formation.

S18-FRINGED POLYGALA

Another that spoke to the theme was a flower that hadn’t quite yet bloomed–fringed polygala, aka gay wings.

S17-SPRING PEEPER

Despite all the flowers and birds, our NDD followed us right to the end–when we spotted a tiny spring peeper . . .

S21-GREEN FROG ON A LOG

and then a green frog.

S22-FEMALE WHITEFACE SKIMMER

While the frog marked the end of our journey, I moved on to the GLLT’s Kezar River Reserve, where another winged critter flew at the flower level–the first dragonfly of the season: a female whiteface skimmer.

Today was filled with petals and wings and all things ephemeral. I hope you’ll have a chance to take advantage of this short window of opportunity.

 

 

 

 

Left-handed Mondate

Yesterday I discovered a male ring-necked pheasant in our backyard–a most unusual sighting. As I watched, he headed over a stone¬† wall and into our woodlot where he cackled and beat his wings in hopes of attracting a mate. The only responses he received were gobbles from Tom Turkey. And so it went for a while . . . cackle . . . gobble . . . cackle . . . gobble.

This morning we were awakened at 5 a.m. to the same mating calls. Who needs a rooster?

w1

When I stepped out the back door, neither bird was anywhere to be seen or heard.

w2

But the double daffodils that came with our house showed off their cheery faces to all who looked.

w3

And by the road, the magnolia we planted about fifteen years ago added its own pastel palette to the scene–however momentary.

w4

By late morning, we changed our focus from the yard to a woodland a few miles away for today was the day we chose to work on the section of trail we steward at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.¬†

w5

There were trees and limbs to clear. And trimming to be done as well. The last time we were on the Southern Shore Trail, which was only a couple of months ago, we noted a few trees that would need our attention, but today there were between fifteen and twenty.

w11

Occasionally, as my guy used the chainsaw and I waited to clean up, I spied old friends like a wild oat or sessile-leaved bellwort in bloom.

w6

And then I made a discovery that had eluded me in the past–a spotted wintergreen. It was an exciting find for it’s listed as S2 ranking,¬†meaning “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”

w7

We were close to an outlook by Holt Pond when we saw the spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, and so we paused to take in the view looking across to the quaking bog as we dined atop a stump.

w10

From there we moved on, making rather quick progress to the “field,” a former log landing where the forest is slowly reclaiming its ground.

w8

As we approached we startled a ruffed grouse and came upon a familiar sight at this spot for the trail through the field has always provided a dust bath for these birds.

w9

And on the edge of the “tub” a telltale downy feather.

w12

Typically, when doing trail work, our turn-round point is the field for that’s what we’d agreed to years ago. Today, we decided to keep going and made a small stream our end point. We shifted a bridge and watched the water striders for a while. Apparently, love wasn’t just in the air, but on the water as well.

W13

On the way back, I was delighted to discover my first painted trillium of the season. I sensed my guy’s groans for he knows I’ll exclaim over and photograph each one I see–not satisfied until I reach a trillion trilliums.

W14

Oh, and there were fern crosiers to celebrate, especially the scaly spiral of the Christmas fern.

w15

At last we reached the beginning of our section of trail and I told my guy that I wanted to go down by the water for a moment, but not cross the boardwalk because my hiking boots leak. He put the saw down, contemplated the water, and made the crossing. From the other side he suggested I join him since the water wasn’t that deep. Before I did so, however, he asked me to move the saw off the trail and out of sight. As I started to hide it, he crossed back over and said, “I’ll take it in case we need it.” And back again he went, the saw in his left hand for he’s a southpaw. He’d just reached the other side when I stepped on the boardwalk and began to carefully move, ever mindful of my boots . . . until those very boots slipped out from under me. Down I went. Crash. Bam. Smash. On the wood. My right forearm took the brunt of the fall and my camera ended up in the water.

My guy came to the rescue as he lifted me up . . . though first I insisted on the camera being saved. And now I have used the hunt and peck method to type this story for I am a southpaw for the next six to eight weeks as I recover from a fracture to the ulna and radius. That’s how today became a left-handed Mondate.

The camera is also in recovery mode–here’s hoping a rice bath will work wonders.

 

 

Cinco de Mayo, Naturally

The hour and a half drive to Litchfield, Maine, was worth every second on this fifth day of May. The spring tapestry that spread before my eyes had me oohing and aahing around each bend in the road for such were the colors–so many shades of greens, mixed in with reds and magentas and pinks and yellows. It was almost intoxicating.

But . . . a photograph will have to wait for another day for I needed to reach my destination and catch up with my peeps–fellow classmates from our 2012-13 Maine Master Naturalist class. For the last five years we’ve tried to get together quarterly. It doesn’t always work out, but this year we’re making a concerted effort.

s1-Smithfield map

Today’s destination was the vernal pool at Smithfield Plantation, a 103-acre property the town of Litchfield conserved. If you look carefully, you might see a reflection of Sharon, who has lead many a school group along the trails and knows the property intimately.

s1a-Sharon T

Before we headed to the pool, she oriented us to the site.

s2-moose wood

One of the things Sharon explained was that a Boy Scout had created an interpretive tree trail and so we paused at one of his stops to admire the craftsmanship.

s2b-moose wood maple leaf

Indeed, right behind the sign, a striped maple, aka moose maple, shared its newly emerged pastel buds and leaves.

s2a-moose maple

And then we lifted the lid to reveal the information. OK, so there were a few typos for the grammar police, but on each of his cards, he included a joke. What a great idea as that would certainly appeal to the younger set. It definitely appealed to those of us who are still ten years old in our minds.

s4-hobblebush

And on the opposite side of the trail, we spotted another type of moose wood–hobblebush just beginning to flower. Both striped maple and hobblebush are favorite foods of moose, thus their nicknames.

s3a-clintonia

Onward we walked until a patch of leaves stopped us. And our brain-sharing began. We thought we knew what the plant was, but then questioned ourselves as it wasn’t in flower yet. Each season, we need to relearn some. Despite the lack of flowers, we decided to key it out in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide using two other descriptors–leaves both basal and entire.

s3-clintonia 1

For those familiar with Newcomb’s that meant of the three numbers in the locator key, we didn’t know the first, but went with 22 for the second and third representing basal leaves and entire leaves. Then we tried, 122, 222, etc.

s3b-clintonia buds

And landed on our first suspicion: 622–Yellow Clintonia or Bluebead (Clintonia borealis).

s6-vernal pool

The trail wasn’t long, but as one might expect, it took us a while to reach the vernal pool. And then we were stopped in our tracks and didn’t approach it right away.

s7-solitary sandpiper

Instead, we stood back and spent a while watching a solitary sandpiper on a downed tree.

s7a-solitary sandpiper

As we watched, it bobbed its tail. And at one point we were sure it took a mid-morning nap. Eventually, the bird flew to another part of the pool and a few minutes later departed.

s10-setting up camp

And so we set up camp, dropping some of our gear on the bench.

s10a-setting up camp

And more of it on and beside a log. We had macro-invertebrate charts and vernal pool pamphlets and books, plus all kinds of containers for pond dipping.

s9-Pam's journal

Pam was the smart one and she’d packed her sketch book and colored pencils. That’s one skill we all appreciate for it slows us down and makes us really notice. I, for one, haven’t done enough sketching in the past year and so this was the perfect incentive for the future.

s8-mosquito larvae

As we looked into the pool and Sharon told us what we might find, we immediately noticed the most abundant residents–mosquito larvae doing their whirligig dances.

s11-first fairy shrimp

But on her first dip, Sharon pulled up the cr√®me de la cr√®me–a fairy shrimp. Bingo–a significant pool it was as she knew, though not so documented with the state.

s12-examining the fairy shrimp

With her loupe, Jen took a closer look.

s13-five fairy shrimp

On Sharon’s next dip she pulled up not uno, not dos, not tres, not quatro, but cinco fairy shrimp.

s13-Pam sketches the fairy shrimp

And so Pam settled in to sketch them in all their glory.

s13-Pam's sketches

And added a caddisfly larva for we’d also captured one of those.

s14-female fairy shrimp

One of the cool things that Sharon pointed out, the brood pouch at the end of the abdomen, so indicating a female. How cool is that?

s15-caddisfly larvae

And here is our caddisfly, his casing created out of fallen hemlock needles. Caddisfly larvae that create their bodies from woody material are the log-cabin variety. We watched it move about in the tray, sometimes extending its soft body out of the case.

s17-spotted salamander egg mass

The dipping continued and a spotted salamander egg mass was pulled out, but only for us to take a closer look. And then it was returned from whence it came. Notice the individual eggs within the greater gelatinous matrix.

s18-egg mass

After that, Sharon found another reason to celebrate. She’d worn her waders and so was able to go deeper into the water than the rest of us.

s18-tadpoles

A quick dip and she’d pulled up an egg mass that almost melted as life burst forth–tadpoles. The first of the season for all of us.

s20-predacious diving beetle larvae

One last dip revealed one not so kind to all the other species we’d located. Known as a water tiger or toe biter, you can tell that it’s one mean little thing. This was the larval stage of a predacious diving beetle and the tadpoles had everything to fear for like its adult form it was a predator.

s23-Cinco Amigas

After that last find, it was time for us to pack up our gear and leave the pool behind. But, we took with us memories of a delightful spring morning spent exploring together. And . . . we had a chance to catch up, show each other field guides we thought might be of interest, share experiences of our volunteer opportunities, provide suggestions for ways to make a nature program work be it for kids or adults, and realize that we were not alone in any obstacles that may cause an issue during those programs.

What a naturally wonderful way to spend this Cinco de Mayo . .  . con cinco amigas. Thanks Gaby, Beth, Jen, Sharon and Pam.

 

 

Mayday Alert

Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.

m2-moose print ID

There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.

m2-scooping

We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.

m3-what did you catch

And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.

m5-blob and algae

In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.

m6-pool?

We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.

m7-examining species

Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.

m8-mosquito larvae

The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.

m8a-pointing out antics of mosquito larvae

Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.

m9-chironomid midge larva

We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”

m10-Trailing Arbutus--May flower

Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially:¬†Epigaea repens.

m11-ribbon snake 1

We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.

m12-ribbon snake captured

We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine.¬†According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become, an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”

m13-ribbon snake 2

And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.

m14-paper birch superhero

Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.

Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.

m15-brother bomb

Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.

m16-root art

The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.

m17-canister cover

We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.

m19-VW

And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.

m23-Kezar River

It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.

m23-salamander eggs

That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.

m24-equisetum

And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.

m24-Mayfly 1

But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.

m25-mayfly 2

I really had to focus in order to spot them.

m27-Mayfly

But once I did, they were . . .

m28-mayfly

everywhere.

m29-mayfly larva

And in all forms, including a nymph.

m30-Mayfly up close

The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.

m31-water scorpion

As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.

m33-water scorpion

As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.

m34-water scorpoin

And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?

m35-ribbon snake

Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.

There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.

 

 

 

 

Sallie Savers Celebrate Big Night with LEA

The initial email was sent by Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, Maine, on Tuesday:

Hello everyone!

Many amphibians have already crossed and laid eggs but there are still some waiting in the woods. Tomorrow evening looks like it will be perfect conditions for an amphibian migration and I would like to get a group together to go out with me. My plan would be to meet at the office at 8pm. With sunset being at 7:40 I really wouldn’t want to start any earlier since the frogs and sallies won’t move when it’s light out.

I want to get an idea of who would be able to come out with me. I have a reporter and videographer coming out from the Bangor Daily News and they would like to get shots of actual people (not just me) and possibly get some quotes from participants. I know that it’s tough to get out with kids since it starts so late but I hope that we can get a diverse group. We also may have the opportunity to check out egg masses that are already in the water!

And then this afternoon, Mary sent this follow-up message:

I have heard from a handful of people who are able to come out tonight so I’m going for it. Here are some details:

Meet at the LEA office building (230 Main Street) at 8pm
We will caravan up to the Masonic Hall and walk to Dugway Road from there.
Bring high powered flashlights/headlamps
Wear warm clothes and rain gear. It looks like the rain may be pretty heavy when we are out there. Good for amphibians but not so great for people trying to stay dry.
Wear reflective clothing if you have some. I have vests available if you don’t have your own.
Do not wash your hands with soap or put on hand lotion or hand sanitizer.
I have spoken to the police and they are going to try and send someone out. They have a training program this evening so we might not see them. This makes it extra important that kids stay with their parents at all times!

b3-amphibian crossing sign

And so we did just that–met at the LEA office first, and then moved on to the Masonic Hall to park before beginning our journey into the wet and wild world of the amphibians.

b1-redbacked

Right away, we noticed worms. And even better, a red-backed salamander. Red backs don’t use vernal pools to mate, but they sure do love rainy nights that offer great opportunities to roam about seeking food.

b2-red backed salamander

We crossed the field from the Hall to Memory Land, our eyes ever looking for more red backs, but instead we noted a kazillion worms, each the size of a young snake. And then, after only a few minutes on the road another red backed graced us with its presence.

b4-Mary explains rules of the road

Finally, we reached Dugway Road, our destination, and Mary took a few minutes to remind folks of safety rules. Some years the Bridgton police are able to join us and either shut the road down or at least slow traffic. Such was not the case tonight and so it was important that our crowd of at least twenty ranging in age from four years old to 70+ be cautious.

b4-walking the road

And then the real fun began. We spread out across the road with flashlights and headlamps, walking with care as we tried to notice the little things in life who chose this night to return to their natal pools in order to mate.

b6-spring peeper

Right away, the good times got rolling as we began to spot spring peepers. Really, it was those with eagle eyes who spotted the most, which wasn’t easy given the asphalt conditions. Though we knew better, we did have to wonder if the amphibians chose this road because it provided good camouflage.

b5-first catch- spring peeper

Being the first of the night, Mary demonstrated the fine art of capturing the peeper, explaining first that her hands were damp and had no soap or cream upon them.

Outstretched hands of one of the younger set awaited a transfer.

b5-pass off

The mission was to help the peeper get to the other side of the road. Typically, once captured, we transport them to the side in which they were headed.

b5-final pass off

The release was made into the youngster’s hands and then onward child holding frog went. Lucky for the frog, there was a culvert at the side and that seemed like the safest place to release it.

b14-into the vernal pool

Further down the road, the songs of the wood frogs and peepers were almost deafening. As we looked into the vernal pool that was still half covered in ice, there was some movement, but the frogs all continued to sing despite our presence, unlike what happens when we approach a pool during the day and they dive under the leaf cover for a few minutes.

b7-spotted salamander

We found enough peepers, but the stars of the night were the spotted salamanders.

b8-sally and worm

The youngest among us picked up one of the ubiquitous worms that marked the night and laid it down beside a sallie.

b9-sally eyes

Sallie didn’t care. It was on a mission and just wanted to move on without our interference. There was only one thing on its mind and we suddenly stood between it and that goal.

b12-salamander

It had a dance to perform before the sun rose and we had a heck of a nerve for getting in the way. I’m always in awe of these creatures who spend at least 11.5 months under the leaf litter and maybe a week or two in the pool. Our rare chance to catch a glimpse of them is on such a rainy night as tonight.

b10-sally on card

Our intentions were in their favor. We only wanted to help save them from the vehicles that passed by.

b11-sally's world

In the end, though, I had to wonder–is this what the salamander’s world looked like as we scooped it up and helped it across.

Possibly, but still, it’s always a thrill for tots, tweens, teens, and all the rest of us to celebrate Big Night with the Lakes Environmental Association. We are the Sallie Savers.

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode 3

We were a bit confused by the clue–something about an oven and ice and we felt like maybe we were headed to a kitchen. My guy doesn’t cook all that much and I avoid it as much as possible, so we knew this was going to be a tough leg of the race. Surely, we’d be there all night trying to concoct something and the sky would darken on our chance of winning.

To top it all off, it was an equalizer. That meant that though we were early to the starting point, all participants would begin at the same time. And so we had some time on our hands and a few dollars to spend on lunch and libations.

o1-clue

As we sipped, our clue was revealed. And we were ready to heed it, despite our anxiety over the cooking issue.

o2-footbridge

Following lunch, we still had more time to kill and decided to walk across the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.

o3-ghost harbor

It was a bit of a ghost harbor on this day, but it won’t be long and people and boats and more people will fill this space.

o5-sign of snow

As we walked around town, we did some window shopping–of the best sort.

o4-clock

And then a view at a clock reminded us that we had a place to be by 1:15.

o6-crooked sign

Look for the crooked sign, the clue stated. We found it.

o8-trail conditions

Follow the trail. We did.

o10-mud below

Note the tide. It was obviously out.

o11-bridge

Locate the bridge that connects Oven Mouth Preserve West to Oven Mouth Preserve East. Bingo.

o13-ice house cove dam

But what was below us, we wondered. And that was our next challenge. We had to figure out the configuration of this land. It looked like an old bridge, but rather, it was a former dam that had been used to create an ice pond on the other side of the bridge upon which we stood. Aha–the icy portion of this leg of the race. Our task was to discover its history. Reading a brochure produced by the Boothbay Region Land Trust we learned the following: “In 1880, in response to a growing demand for ice, [the cove now known as Ice House Cove] was dammed to form a fresh-water pond and an ice house was built. The ice was shipped by schooner, mainly to Boston and New York.” Today, any blocks of ice would surely have melted as happened in our water bottles.

o7-garter snake

While we looped around the two peninsulas we had a several other challenges to complete. First, we needed to find three examples of critter sign–other than the ubiquitous red squirrel middens. We checked off number one with a garter snake that slithered past.

o7b-mammal tracks

Number two: mammal tracks in the mud below. We couldn’t get close enough to identify it, but noted the trotting pattern.

o7a-wasp nest

And number three, the remnants of a paper wasp nest.

Another challenge down. How many more to go?

o12-scavenger 2

It wasn’t long before the next presented itself as we wound our way around the property. First, we needed to find evidence of the land’s former use–as a sheep pasture in the 19th century.

o12-scavenger hunt 1

And then the letter D. We never did learn what the D stood for, but . . . we found it.

o15-sausage-shaped boudins

And finally, a sausage-shaped boudin among the folds, formed by the pinching and swelling from compression and shearing.

o13-Cross river

The tide slowly flowed in as we journeyed on.

o14-rip where Back and Cross River met

And at the point where the Cross River met the Back River, we noted a rip current visible in the swirls.

o14-ice house dam and today's bridge

At last we crossed back over the bridge from east to west and then peeked at the dam juxtaposed as it was in the shadow of the modern-day bridge.

o16-oven?

From the outermost point of the west side, we paused to look back toward the dam and bridge–did the early explorers really see this rounded cove as the inside of an oven, thus naming it Ovens Mouth? It was certainly unique. Fortunately, we could enjoy the view without turning up the heat. If they thought it was an oven, we agreed. If it meant we didn’t have to cook, we definitely agreed.

From the brochure, we did learn more history: “This area has always been inviting for maritime activities because of its deep-water access and protected location. Settled in the mid-1700s, one of the region’s earliest shipyards was located here and both British and American vessels hid in the coves during the Revolution. Soon after the Civil War, the property came into the hands of the Tibbets-Welsh family, who owned it for more than a hundred years.”

o17-kissing tree

We had one last challenge to complete before finding our way to the mat. Our final mission: to note three sights that represented our relationship.

Kissing trees–check.

o17-heart

A heart-shaped rock–check.

o17-pigeons

Whispering sweet nothings–check. (Note the heart-shaped white cere on their bills. And no, he is not picking her nits. Well, even if he is, isn’t that a loving move?)

Once again, we managed to stay ahead of other contestants, didn’t squabble too much, avoided our worst fears and completed the assigned tasks without much stress. In the third episode of our imaginary rendition of The Amazing Race–Our Style, we landed on the mat in first place once again. What’s next? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway